LDA Legislative News – June 2016

Education Department Proposes ESSA Regulations

The U.S. Department of Education has issued draft regulations to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and now the public gets to comment. The regulations address school accountability, data reporting, and consolidated State plans. In May the regulatory process began with a panel of negotiators examining draft regulations related to assessment and supplement-not supplant rules. The panel was only able to agree on draft regulations on assessment, but the Department has not included those in the current package.

“Adequate yearly progress” and other features of the federal accountability system included in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were eliminated in ESSA, which gives States the responsibility to develop their own accountability systems. States will set long-term goals and measurements of interim progress for academic outcomes, ensuring that the progress is made toward closing the achievement gaps for the specified subgroups of students. Those subgroups are the same as under NCLB: students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, and English learners.

The draft regulations address these accountability systems, the specific indicators States must and may select to determine student performance, and how States will differentiate among schools to ensure low-performing students and schools get the supports they need. In addition, the proposed rules set an “n-size” for consideration of subgroup performance at no more than 30. States proposing to use a larger n-size must provide justification to the U.S. Department of Education. The proposed regulations would prohibit States that previously used super-subgroups – combining subgroups for accountability purposes – from continuing this policy.

Under NCLB, the regulations were explicit about the choices States had in dealing with consistently low-performing schools. The proposed rules say States must identify certain schools at least once every three years for “comprehensive support and improvement,” including the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools, high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent for all students, and Title I schools with chronically low-performing subgroups.

States must also identify schools for targeted support and improvement, including schools with a low-performing subgroup performing at a similar level to all students in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools and Title I schools with a consistently underperforming subgroup. The regulations would allow States to design and select their own evidence-based strategies to address the problems in these schools.

LDA staff is currently reviewing these regulations to determine the impact on students with specific learning disabilities. The organization will submit comments, due by August 1, 2016, to reflect the areas of support and concern in these proposals.

Title IV Coalition Fights for Funding

In a 29-1 vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (“Labor-H”) appropriations bill. Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) noted this is the first bipartisan Labor-H bill to reach the full committee since 2009. Overall the bill would provide $161.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016. That figure is $270 million below the FY 2016 funding level and $2 billion below the president’s proposed budget request. But remember, this is just the first step in a long process.

The Labor-H bill is one of 12 appropriations bills, each of which funds different federal government agencies. LDA follows Labor-H most closely, since the majority of programs on its legislative agenda are funded through this bill.

The big winner in the Senate Appropriations Committee bill is the National Institutes of Health, which would receive a $2 billion increase. For education programs, the Committee restored year-round Pell grant eligibility which would benefit an estimated 1 million students. Overall, however, the Department of Education allotment under this bill is $220 million below current funding.

IDEA-Part B Grants would realize an additional $40 million. Once again the Preschool Grants and Part C Grants for Infants and Toddlers would be frozen at current levels, as would all the Part D programs except for Technical Assistance and Dissemination. The TA&D program would receive a $2.5 million increase to support the Special Olympics program and new educational programming on Special Olympics designed to be integrated into classroom instruction. Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants would also receive a small increase.

Title I Grants, the heart of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), would receive a $500 million increase. However, a number of small competitive grant programs under No Child Left Behind were eliminated under ESSA, and therefore received no funding under this bill. The eliminated programs were consolidated in Title IV of ESSA under a new block grant, which could be funded at up to $1.65 billion. The Senate bill provides only $300 million for the block grant, which would mean school districts would receive less than $10,000 each to fund important activities, including mental and physical health and education, technology, the arts, advanced placement coursework, and other critical activities that help students to be successful in school.

The House Labor-H Subcommittee expects to consider its bill in late June or early July. They hope the full House Appropriations Committee will be able to act on the bill before the summer recess in mid-July.

Even with all this activity, it is almost certain neither House nor Senate Labor-H bill will be brought to the floor of the respective chambers for a final vote. In fact, Congress once again will not complete the 12 appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year. Instead they will be compelled to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating. The outcome of the presidential and congressional elections will dictate whether Congress returns after the election to try to complete their work or instead passes another short- or long-term Continuing Resolution until the new Congress and Administration are in place next year.

New Initiative Highlights Chronic Absenteeism

The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) was just released by the U.S. Department of Education. First conducted by the Office for Civil Rights in 1968, the CRDC looks at a range of information, including student enrollment and services, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. For the first time, the CRDC includes an analysis of chronic absenteeism, based on the 2013-14 school year, revealing that 13 percent of all students missed at least 15 days of school that year. For students with disabilities, the statistics were even worse, with 17 percent of students chronically absent.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that chronic absenteeism occurs in all parts of the country and in all grade spans. Among high school students, the rate of absenteeism is 20 percent, 12 percent for middle schoolers, and 10 percent for children in elementary schools. With the poorest attendance record, more than 22 percent of American Indian students were absent at least 15 days in 2013-14, while Asian students had the fewest absences. Absenteeism was around 13 percent for both males and females.

To address this serious problem, the Administration launched a new effort – Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism. Now they have added a new interactive website that allows the user to examine the problem through the lens of geography, ethnicity, disability, and school level. The Secretary of Education also recently hosted the Every Student, Every Day National Conference to help school districts think about ways to address this problem.

Here are a few other data points on students with disabilities highlighted in the CRDC:

  • Students with disabilities (11%) are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities (5%).
  • Students with disabilities, 12 percent of all students, represent 67% of students subject to restraint or seclusion.
  • Students with disabilities are 11% of all students in schools that offer AP courses, but fewer than 2% of students enrolled in at least one AP course.
  • Students with disabilities are 12% of students in schools that offer Algebra II and 6% of students enrolled in Algebra II; 11% of students in schools that offer calculus and 1% of students enrolled in calculus; and 11% of students in schools that offer physics and 6% of students enrolled in physics.
  • To close the participation gap in physics, more than 104,000 additional students with disabilities would need to participate in physics classes nationwide.

The most recent CRDC was the first in which there was an attempt to include data from every school in the country. OCR succeeded in reaching 99.5 percent, or 99,500, public schools. The information is used by OCR to monitor and enforce civil rights laws and ensure all students receive equal education opportunity.

The full report is available here.

Guidance Issued on New Career Pathway Programs

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued information to clarify changes passed by Congress in 2015 to the Higher Education Act (HEA) regarding the “ability to benefit” (ATB) rule. ATB allows students without a high school diploma or an equivalent credential to be eligible for federal student aid, but only if the student is enrolled in an “eligible career pathway program.” The latest information from the Department provides a revised definition of an eligible career pathway program and how these provisions should be implemented. The new HEA definition aligns with the definition of a “career pathway” under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The definition now states that an eligible career pathways program is one that combines rigorous and high-quality education, training, and other services that:

  • aligns with the skills needed by industries in the particular State or regional economy;
  • prepares the individual to be successful in a variety of secondary or postsecondary educational programs, including apprenticeships;
  • includes educational and career counseling;
  • includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation and training for a specific occupation or cluster;
  • organizes education, training, and other services to meet the individual’s specific needs in a way that accelerates educational and career advancement as much as possible;
  • enables the individual to get a high school diploma or equivalent and at least one postsecondary credential; and,
  • helps the student enter or advance in a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

Federal financial aid may not be used for the component that enables a person to get a high school diploma or equivalent credential. Those funds may only be used for the postsecondary program component, which must be a HEA-Title IV (financial aid) eligible program. Title IV programs must be accredited and have State authorization to offer the postsecondary program.

For more information, go to: Guidance Released on Ability to Benefit Pell Eligibility.

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